The Rev. Jeff Walther was a man of God and a lover of nature — and for him, the two were inseparable.
Walther, of Esko, Minn., died Oct. 25 of COVID-19 complications at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center in Duluth. He was 58.
Born in Wadena, Minn., Walther was an outgoing kid who knew from a young age he wanted to be a pastor. His parents took Walther and his brother on excursions to national parks, where his passion for the outdoors began.
After graduating from Concordia University in St. Paul, Walther attended Concordia Theological Seminary in Indiana and spent several summers ministering with a program called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, providing park staffers and visitors with opportunities to worship.
While working at Grand Teton National Park he met Christina Stavrou, a student who was leading the music at services. They married two years later, once Walther was ordained.
“It relaxed me to be around him,” said Christina Walther, who described her husband as down-to-earth and funny. “He just didn’t waste an opportunity to do something exciting.”
Walther served a congregation in New York and worked in alumni and church relations at Concordia University before becoming pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Esko. His children, Hannah Kovac of Duluth, and Alex, of Esko, were born along the way. Christina said they didn’t stop having fun when they had kids — they simply included them in their plans.
Family members said Walther was a great speaker and conversationalist, honing his skills on a college radio show and later through Toastmasters. While speaking to his congregation, he mixed jokes and laughter into his sermons. “His ministry was his passion,” Kovac said. “He was just so excited to be there.”
And Walther accepted people as they were, she said. As a father, she said, he was supportive, goofy and always knew what to say. The family took camping trips to the national parks, his “happy place,” where they hiked and fished and Walther made daily observations in a journal.
In May, Walther completed his doctorate of ministry at the Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, Calif., with a thesis titled “The Wonders of God and the Wonders of Creation,” which he wrote as a tool for pastors. It focuses on nature metaphors in the Bible.
Walther’s father, Howard, of Wadena, died Nov. 16 at the age of 91. In addition to his wife, daughter and son, Walther is survived by his mother, Elaine, of Wadena, and a brother, Tim, of Roseville. Services have been held.